Scotty Stevenson’s Super Rugby Power Rankings make a triumphant return for 2017.
The Chiefs played like they were on dial-up for the best part of 70 minutes last week and still managed to win a game of footy by 13 points. There is nothing at all special about the style of the Chiefs, but they make up for that by bringing a frankly feral attitude to the game which really pisses off every team they play against. Just ask TJ Perenara who, in round three, was patted on the head 25 times by Michael Leitch in one post-try fracas. Twenty-five times! That’s Dave Grohl level drumming. The Chiefs lead just one category in the key stats list – lineout percentage – and miss too many tackles, but that just makes their 4-0 start to the season all the more impressive.
They’d be number one if they had beaten the Chiefs, but they didn’t. What they did do was hammer the Highlanders on the weekend. It took a while to go through the gears but when the Hurricanes hit top speed, they are phenomenal to watch. The Barrett brothers have pretty much given up on passing with their hands and now just kick the ball to teammates to score tries. Ngani Laumape is fast becoming the most direct and powerful midfield ball carrier in the game. Ben Smith should be technically dead after Ngani dropped the shoulder on him on Saturday night, on his way to the try line. Also, Ardie Savea off the back of the best scrum in the competition? Yes please.
Paul Feeney seems to have taught the Stormers, who lead the competition in running metres, how to play attacking rugby. I don’t know how he has done this. No one does. Just like no one really knows why every new bar has two names. What I do know is if you ever see me sipping on a Nectarine and the Ball Sweat of Monks Belgian-style West Auckland Wheat Beer in a place called “Mildred and George,” please kill me.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: herpes is easier to shake than the Crusaders, and you can never shake herpes. Three straight come-from-behind wins have this team believing in miracles, which is probably an easier thing to believe in than, say, earthquake recovery progress. The Crusaders never look flustered, as evidenced by the manner in which they have overcome big deficits in the last three rounds: work the territory, drive for the line, repeat. The secret is this: Sam Whitelock is five beats per minute away from being clinically dead. I have never seen a captain more relaxed down the home straight. Speaking of calmness, the Crusaders bench, led by Luke Romano and Wyatt Crockett, is absolutely stone cold ruthless.
If the Argentines don’t make the playoffs this year, they’ll only have themselves to blame. Drawing the New Zealand conference was always going to make their maiden season tough. This year they have the Australians. How can I put this delicately? That is almost a guaranteed pathway to the finals. The Jaguares love a carry, and have put together more per game than any other team. Importantly, they are recycling plenty of that ball – posting the best ruck success percentage of any team. They are ranking 4th in metres made per game, too. The downside is they have an appalling scrum. And they still can’t tackle. Two things that won’t matter against the Australian conference teams.
Last year’s finalists will surely make the playoffs this year. They made the final last year and they had a much tougher draw. Apart from a hiccup against the Jaguares (and as noted above, that is not something to be embarrassed about in 2017) the Lions have pumped the Waratahs and the Reds and have lost very little of the verve of last season.
Before we talk seriously about the Brumbies’ form, can we all just agree that if the Australian Rugby executive even considers shutting down its most successful Super Rugby franchise they are unfit for purpose and should all be made to live in Perth, where they can watch the Force every weekend and live with what they have done. As for the Brumbies, they are the only Australian side that has won two games this year. That is as good as the accolades are going to get.
Here’s the thing about the Highlanders. People want them to win because by virtue of the whole Scottish heritage thing they have inherited that hoary old chestnut of a tag, the brave battlers. They are actually better than that, but very few teams could be expected to win while enduring the injury toll they have sustained in the opening month of the season. Injuries aside, the Highlanders haven’t helped their own cause. They have been loose with their possession, conceding 19.8 turnovers per game – the most in the competition. This should be a simple fix for the ‘Landers, especially now that the early all-Kiwi storm has passed.
The Sharks are 3-1 but could have just as easily been 1-3, or 4-0. This is a team that, with the exception of a drubbing of the Waratahs in Durban, is scraping through by the smallest of margins, or losing in a corresponding fashion. The Sharks do boast the best tackle percentage in the competition, but they still can’t seem to find a free-flowing attacking style for more than a few moments in a match. They will need to find something if they are to secure a spot in the playoffs.
As of today, with a 1-3 record, the Blues would be in the playoffs. Let’s consider that for a moment, get the obligatory laugh about the conference format out of the way, and move on. For 45 minutes against the Crusaders last week the Blues looked like they had turned a corner. Unfortunately, it was into a cul-de-sac of bad memories and familiar pain. The lineout is the Blues’ major vulnerability at the moment, both offensively and defensively. The Blues have conceded more tries (14) than any other New Zealand team this season, and eight of them have come directly from lineouts. They have conceded three lineout steals per game.
Lost to the Stormers and the Cheetahs, battled away against the Sunwolves, and have already used up a bye weekend. Have the Blues and Chiefs on their New Zealand tour starting this week. It doesn’t look good for the Bulls.
Still crazy after all these years.
Surely this is the most frustrating team in the entire competition.
Oh, hang on.
The LA Clippers of Super Rugby. Not the biggest show in town. Playing like they know it.
Burn it, before it lays eggs.
At least they’re trying.
I can’t even.